I'm not going to say that Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection is going to make you forget about the fire power of Halo 3: ODST. I doubt that it's going to make you rush to your local record store in quite the same way as The Beatles: Rock Band. And there's no way that this game will give you the same sense of speed as Need for Speed: Shift. The truth is, Pinball Hall of Fame isn't going to make you forget about any of this September's much-hyped game releases. What I can promise is that unlike those other games, you'll still be going back to The Williams Collection long after you complete it.
Released on the Wii and PlayStation some 19 months ago, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection is finally making its way to the Xbox 360. This package takes everything that was great about the original release and adds high definition graphics, a better control layout, online leader boards and a handful of exciting new pinball tables for you to master. It all adds up to not only the best version of Pinball Hall of Fame out there, but also one of the greatest pinball compilations ever released.
As the title suggests, Pinball Hall of Fame takes you on a wild journey through three decades of pinball tables. As you enter the Hall of Fame you will be greeted with the sights and sound of a real arcade (only without the kids running around and that overwhelming urine odor). You are given a few tokens and a couple of machines programmed for "free play". It's your job to earn high scores, earn more tokens and eventually unlock all of the game's 13 tables.
Taking tables from the 70s, 80s and 90s, this compilation features an inspired collection of amazing pinball machines. You get some of William's biggest success stories (Pinbot, Whirlwind, Funhouse, etc.), some of their more recent entries (Medieval Madness, Tales of the Arabian Nights, No Good Gophers) and one table that is only months shy of its 40th anniversary (1970's Jive Time). Regardless of whether you grew up playing these games or are experiencing them for the first time, there's a little something for everybody at the Pinball Hall of Fame.
What struck me about this collection is how different each of these tables is. It's not just the artwork that adorns the cabinet, but also all of the different rules and features found in each table. You can really see the evolution of pinball as you play through the tables in chronological order. With each year they seem to get more and more complicated, adding multiple storylines, more flippers, tons of tunnels and the always exciting multi-ball. And yet, even the most convoluted board seems doable, if only because the basic gameplay remains the same from game to game.
No matter what year it came out or what the subject matter, each of these games is overflowing with personality. Taxi, for example, has you picking up famous faces (Santa Claus, Dracula, Mikhail Gorbachev, etc.) and dealing with unruly airport traffic. No Good Gophers, on the other hand, has a golf theme that includes a weaponized golf cart, a hole to putt and all of the hazards of a real golf course (including a Caddyshack-inspired gopher). Other games include Whirlwind (which features a wind gimmick that can radically alter the direction of your ball), Pinbot (based on robot lore) and Space Shuttle (which might as well be the official NASA table). Best of all, with names like Medieval Madness, Black Knight and Sorcerer you won't even need to play the game to know what they're about.
With any compilation disc you will always have a few clunkers, and that's certainly true with Pinball Hall of Fame. Without a doubt, my least favorite table is the ironically named Funhouse. This 1990 pinball machine looks inviting from afar, but once you get closer you'll notice that much of the table is covered. Worse yet, the game feels like it was designed to make you lose your ball in cheap ways. This is one of those tables where you can lose your turn within seconds of starting. Even the stunningly complicated Tales of the Arabian Nights was less frustrating than Funhouse.
No matter what you think of any one of these games, there's one thing you can't complain about - the visuals. This is without a doubt the best any of these games has ever looked on a game console. And outside of having the arcade machine in your living room, you simply cannot get any closer to the real thing. The high definition graphics make every table look lifelike, complete with flaws and a reflection on the glass. As impressed as I was by the graphics on the Wii, I was blown away by Pinball Hall of Fame on the Xbox 360.
The good news is that there's a lot more to this collection than just pretty graphics and exciting pinball action. Each game has two sets of goals for you to complete, each tied to a specific achievement. The goals are table specific, so you'll find yourself having to collect a certain amount of passengers in Taxi and storming the castle a couple of times in Medieval Madness. On top of that, you will also need to hit certain high scores, make specific skill shots and earning the multi-ball. Once you've completed these five tasks, you'll be given five more "Wizard" goals to accomplish. These are even harder and will make you explore every inch of the board.
While I'm usually not the kind of guy who plays a game just for achievement points, I found myself addicted trying to earn each and every one of these goals. There are still a few out of my reach, but there's no question that these goals have made me play certain tables longer than I normally would. In fact, I credit these goals for making me dig deep into Tales of the Arabian Nights just so I can understand what the game was trying to accomplish.
As you earn high scores and complete goals you will be given a chance to unlock other games for free play. Simply by playing the different tables you will eventually unlock all of the tables, giving you free reign over the hall of fame. Well, almost free reign. In order to unlock Jive Time you will need to complete the Williams Challenge, a mode that has you attempting to earn a high score on each of the collection's 13 tables. While this normally wouldn't be a problem, you'll quickly discover that you're playing these games in a row without any breaks, adding up to a lengthy mode. And what happens when you have a run of bad luck (as is bound to happen when playing so many different arcade tables)? Well, you start over at the top and try again. This mode is certainly doable, but earning Jive Time definitely takes a few tries to unlock.
Most of the other modes involve you playing with friends. You can play with up to four different people on any one of the game's tables, though you can only do that in the comfort of your own home (no online play here). There's also a cool tournament mode that allows you to challenge your friends to several different tables. Don't expect anything fancy when it comes to multiplayer content, it gets the job done and little else.
As much as I loved last year's Wii version, this Xbox 360 port fixes a couple nagging issues. The biggest problem was the control, which was passable at best on the Wii. You control the flippers using the control's two trigger buttons and use the two analog sticks as the plunger and tilt mechanic. It's not only simple, but it's incredibly intuitive. This Xbox 360 port also features online leader boards, which will definitely make me want to keep playing to beat all of my friend's scores (and anybody else that gets in my way). While this may sound like a minor addition, it really adds a lot to the longevity of a game like this.
One thing they didn't need to change from the 2008 model was the amazing physics. The weight of the ball is absolutely perfect and these machines work exactly the way they would if you could find one of them in real life. It may seem strange to some that I'm gushing over an Xbox 360 game that gets the physics of pinball right, but this is one of those things that happens so seldom that when somebody does do it right they require a little extra attention for their feat.
Pinball Hall of Fame has quickly become my go-to game of choice when I only have a few minutes to kill. With its lifelike visuals and easy controls, I don't see how Crave could develop a more accurate recreation of these tables. The boards are recreated in loving detail, the physics are perfect and you have all of the modes you would find in a local arcade. Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection does an excellent job demonstrating why these classic machines should be preserved for everybody to experience. It may not make you forget about all of the big games coming out this month, but this budget title will stick with you long after you've fought your last fight and played your last song. Go get it, you won't regret it.